In a new study from Nottingham Trent University, researchers found examined the role of trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), a molecule that is present in people’s diets and produced by the body during the digestion of fish.
The found TMAO may play an important role in protecting and improving cognitive function.
As foods containing TMAO are ingested, the molecule is broken down by bacteria in the gut.
The breakdown product is taken up into the bloodstream and converted back to TMAO, which interacts with organs throughout the body.
Importantly, the brain’s circulatory and vascular system is exposed to TMAO, which interacts directly with the ‘blood-brain barrier.” This barrier works to prevent potentially harmful toxins in the body from reaching the brain.
As people become older the blood-brain barrier becomes ‘leaky’ and more easily penetrated by these toxins.
The current study showed that TMAO makes the blood-brain barrier less leaky.
The team found that the long-term presence of TMAO in the diet positively influenced both blood-brain barrier integrity and cognition in mice—preventing recognition memory impairments—compared to the absence of the molecule.
The team says that it is the first such demonstration of a direct interaction of microbe-derived metabolites with the blood-brain barrier and its protective function.
They say that the work has implications for dietary interventions in humans that target the gut-brain connection to potentially improve cognitive function.
Damage to the brain’s blood vessels is a feature of many neurological diseases, including stroke and dementia.
By identifying the gut bacteria as able to modify brain blood vessel integrity, these findings open up exciting new avenues for protective intervention by manipulating the diet.
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The study is published in Microbiome. One author of the study is Professor